Jo Linehan: Consider the Vagina – A Roundtable

When was the last time you considered your vagina?

Is it the thing you refer to without deep thought, as perennial and trivial as a garden hedge? Are you clenching right now as its name is mentioned, a squirm-inducing naughty-bits embarrassment, the stuff pink, blushing cheeks are made of? Or maybe you’re a women who owns her vagina – educated and informed by the Sex And The City school of thought, as so many of our generation are, saying it loud and proud – “Vahh-giiiin-aaa” – in whole, hollow, mouthy syllables?

It boggles my mind to think about vaginas. Every moment we share with our female appendage is our life’s most intimate. Think about it, starting with its dressage; full bush, barebacked Hollywood, the notion of hair there (or lack thereof) is such a telling tale of our feminine status. Ten years ago, the working, sophisticated single woman’s act of power and self-righteousness was to get a Brazilian wax. An “I am vagina, hear me roar” mentality that spurred a generation to abandon blunt razors in exchange for a fast slap of throbbing wax, five hours worth of minimum wage and a stinging afternoon.

That first hand-mirror moment when you spread and hold your breath, half terrified, to uncover the truth. The first delirious orgasm – by yourself – and then with another human. The shocking treacle of a first period and every cramping arrival of one there after. I often wonder why vaginas don’t get more airtime. We spend so much time talking about our boobs, our eyes, our skin, our noses. Ok, unless you’re a performance artist your vagina probably doesn’t experience the same kind of public display, but this organ is a superpower – the source of all life.

I set about talking to some of my favourite women to ask them about their relationship with their lady gardens. I wanted to have a conversation with them about the body part that unites us in this exquisite club. What does it mean to you now? How do you feel about your vagina and how it looks, feels? What does it symbolises, if anything?

Should we know more, talk more about the big V?

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Here’s what some woman had to say about their vaginas:

Fiona, 27, editor: I always hand mirror it – after a wax, anytime I feel something down there. I feel like the better I know it the better I know how it’s getting on. I’m conscious of it because my granny and mum have had cervical problems, so I’m quite in tune with everything that happens down there. And I think it’s rather lovely – it’s symmetrical and small. I love when it’s clean-shaven and equally when it’s bushy. I’m far more confident about how it looks like than other parts of my body. When I open my legs, I feel confident about how it looks. I comprehend the magical, natural feats it goes through in life. But at the moment it’s a sexual organ for me, and that’s how I relate to it – sex, feeling good, orgasms, being womanly… that all comes from this incredible organ. I love it for that reason. I’m restrictive with who I share her with, because it’s precious to me.

Eimear, 29, actor: I’m very curious about it, and I definitely check in with it. It’s quite sensitive so I’m hyper aware of it. When I’m upset I can tell via my vagina. It’s the nerve centre of my emotions.

Catherine, 30, beauty consultant: I think my vagina is amazing. For me, oral sex is so much more intimate than penetrative sex, because for me it’s a sacred space. Language is also really important to me. I hate when people call their vaginas by any other name. It’s taken me a long time to be able to say that word – vagina, it even sounds like a big vagina when you say it. Mine is quite tidy, and I have a name for her – Minnie.

Anna, 27, works in publishing: I like my vagina. When I was younger, I would worry sometimes that the lips were too big but I have too many other, more important things to think about now. I’m also a fan of pubic hair. I keep it tidy and trimmed but I don’t wax. I only let people who I know well and feel comfortable with go down on me.

Kim, 27, works in digital media: I used to worry that my vagina didn’t work. It was a very shit time and I just went quiet when my friends spoke of the multiple orgasms they’d enjoyed the previous night. It wasn’t until I did some extensive digging around myself that I managed to turn a light on that, thankfully, never went off again. Mine’s still got a bit of an awkward freshman vibe to it, while my friends seem blessed with uber confident, popular cool girl vaginas. I adore horribly crude names for vagina like fur burger and bearded clam, though I’d never say out loud, “Hmm, I’ve got a bit of an itchy growler today.” I really love the word gee because it’s just never not hilarious and I giggle like a schoolgirl if I see it hidden in more acceptable language. I like saying ‘vagina’ often and out loud because it bothers me that anybody would feel uncomfortable about vaginas. I have a vagina, you have a vagina, we’re lucky to have our vaginas and just because I’m wearing pants and you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, quietly purring away to herself, waiting for Jamie Dornan to introduce himself.

Chloe, 27, teacher: I don’t like how they look.

Me: So no mirror action then?

Chloe: No, Josie.

Maryanne, 27, teacher: 😂🙈

Orlaith, 26, works in publishing: I’m definitely aware of it. Sometimes it/they require manipulation during sex, but I’m also aware that vaginas come in all shapes and sizes. So I like my labia. I’ve read about women getting surgery there, and that’s heartbreaking in a way. Especially when you consider that female genital mutilation is such an issue.

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Some fun facts about vaginas:

  1. The word “vagina” comes from Latin meaning, “sheath for a sword.”
  2. The first ever movie to use the word “vagina“ on film was Disney (I kid you not.)  “The Story of Menstruation,” was released in 1946. And no, after far too many hours in a fruitless Google deep dive I did not find any original footage.
  3. There is a vaginal weightlifting world record. It’s held by Tatyana Kozhevnikova. She deadlifted a 14 kg kettle bell. And she swears by the exercise’s orgasm-improving powers.                 

What I discovered (along with the existence of vaginal weightlifting) was this: Vaginas are not a taboo talking point or private matter in the least. It’s not out of shyness or a fear of down there that we don’t speak about it on the daily. Vaginas are sacred – one of the last sacred things in the world, maybe. And the most satisfying part of this exploration has been listening to women realise that they have a very strong ideal and understanding of their own V and what it means to them.

We nickname them, speak to them, stare at them, avoid them, loathe them, are in awe of them, worry about them. And me? What do I think of my V, especially after delving (pardon my language) deeply into our collective V psyche? I don’t speak to her and I’m not considering vaginal weightlifting as a pastime… but I feel more empowered having considered her a little more these past weeks. And maybe I’ll think about a nickname.

Jo Linehan is a freelance writer and editor living in New York. Follow her on Twitter at @jo_linehan

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